When you're cursed you're always hoping

It struck him as he pulled into her friend's driveway that Heather had been right. He did like Nevada City. After miles upon miles of flat and featureless scrub as he passed through Utah and on to Nevada, the switch up to forest was a welcome one. Downtown would have given Sergio Leone a hard on; historic buildings lining the main drag, evocative of the Old West. He even drove down Coyote Street on his way to meet her.

How his eldest daughter knew the town's aesthetic would appeal to him was a mystery. But it also felt entirely unfair; a cruel remark on the passage of time and the rift that had grown between them. Once, the minutiae of his daughter's life were established constants that formed the bedrock of their relationship. But her shoe size was different. Her favourite drink, changed. He had no idea whose house this belonged to, when not so long ago he'd made out birthday invitations to Emily and Sarah.

A glance in the rear view told him this was a mistake. The fear had chased him across Nevada, materialising as he took stock of the bed promised to her. Its linen was clean but old; faded and pilled by too many wash cycles. Pillowcases hid the sweat stains. The mattress was thin. In short, the kind of bed that would give Catherine heart palpitations. Not good enough. He could already imagine Heather's reaction; the same uncomfortable blend of pity and disgust that had come to define him.

I'm here x
Sperm Donor

But, for all his trepidation in coming to meet her, she had left him with very little choice. Cornered and collared, now caught in the snare of a life he'd abandoned, he had come to prise himself free of those steel jaws. To determine what might be salvaged or saved. With a sigh, Fletch rested his forearms on the steering wheel, and cast a frail prayer to whomever was up there listening that he wouldn't have to gnaw the limb off entirely.

idk slight TW for unfun views of addiction :']

 She filled up the pages of her journal, neat print devolving into slanted scrawl. Could he be faulted for not telling them sooner? Were their parameters surrounding his sickness? She’d watched documentaries about addiction -- alcoholism or pharmaceuticals and how the afflicted framed them as a disease. But it was their choice to do those things as much as it was their choice not to get better. Heather didn’t think her dad ever wanted to become the monster he was, but she was concerned that he hadn’t sought help until now.

  Hurrying down the steps with her duffle slung over one shoulder, she hugged her friends goodbye and offered a brief farewell, genetically designed to repel the overly sentimental fawnings of her peers. Swinging the front door open, she paused on the stoop. It was entirely her own oversight. He’d hinted at it on the phone but Heather was good at picking the pieces of a conversation she liked and discarding the rest, like a gardener harvesting verbal fruit.

 She walked her bag over to her own car and swung it into the trunk before she came up to the driver side window, tapping on it with her knuckle. "What’s with the Scooby Doo mystery machine, Dad? Did you lose a bet?"

The wait was a study in agony. Behind him a suburban cul-de-sac wound with sleepy traffic. In his right ear the radio clamoured for his attention with its plastic promises of a better life. But his gaze trained resolutely on that front door, while his thoughts strayed to all the tangible reasons this was a mistake.

Heather had become someone he would not have liked to know. She had too many traits that evoked memories of Catherine. The way she turned his words against him; twisted them to a more palatable truth. Her stubborn desire to be right against all contrary evidence. The demands she made for honesty, where a lie would have been kinder. They were all so true of her mother as to feel like a knife to the heart.

So here he sat, tethered by DNA, nostalgia, and his want to set right a stomach-ulcer wrong. No longer able to stand how it gnawed at him, yet unsure how he could begin to repair such cancerous damage.

By the time she appeared it had almost consumed him, that the smile he managed as she tapped on the window was tight.

'What d'you mean? This is a Merc, this. German engineering at its finest.' He patted the dashboard. The Sprinter had too many miles on the clock and the upkeep burned a hole in his pocket, but Heather didn't need to know that. His attention strayed over her shoulder after that, to where the Bolt was parked. 'What's that there? That electric?'

 "Of course." It made things more difficult, the infrastructure limping behind the more efficient vehicle development, a case of the chicken eating the egg. "Every little bit helps." Choosing straight and narrow positivity rather than the begrudging judgement that bubbled to the surface at the same time. The Sprinter couldn't be environmentally sound.

 "So, this is where you live, isn't it?" Half daring him to prove her wrong, to whisk her away to some well-pruned pad back in Colorado.

The only expression Fletch gave to his opinion of his daughter's electric car was a twitch of his already tight smile; lips pressing together with a quiet, mayfly humour.

'Aye, 'tis.' He could weather the ribbing he got from the likes of strangers, who found mobile living an upsetting, alien concept. But Heather's judgement veered too near the knuckle of a more personal insecurity. It forced his smile a little wider as he jabbed a thumb behind him, not about to be cowed by a teenage girl. 'Converted it myself. Next time your Granda Jim says he never made a tradesman out of me, you want to tell him about your old dad's Sprinter.'

He raised a brow. 'Want to take a look?'

 Taking a wide gander at her father's homeless existence did not appeal to her, no.

 "I want to make you better. Is there some place we can go to talk? Should I follow you back to Colorado? I want to get this sorted so we can go home."

 She hadn't come looking for him thinking that she'd be able to fuse their family back together, but he couldn't be blamed for this. He was her father and he was sick and she was going to help him. Not even her mother or her grandparents could stand in the way of that.

No fifty cent tour, then. Fletch's mouth twisted subtly to the side, as he pinched the inner edge between his teeth. There was a sense of formality in her asking, as though he was just one more item to tick off on her agenda. It went without saying who she reminded him of.

'Alright, Heather. We can go talk somewhere. But I'm not turning round and driving all the way back to Colorado after I just got here.' Chances were, he wouldn't be going back there for a while, if at all.

'You'd best hop into that Tonka toy of yours and follow on. Drove through a quiet stretch of road on the way over, about half an hour, forty minutes or so back that way. Can pull over there and talk. D'you drink regular coffee, or am I picking you up something else on route?'

 The way he said her name made her feel like it left a sour taste in his mouth. Frowning, she nodded, deciding not to ask him if she'd be safe. "Regular coffee's fine." Not wanting him to go out of his way to get something special. Heather had an affinity for finer things, but she was grounded enough not to expect quality out of every situation.

 It was a two car parade towards the outskirts of Nevada City. The pull off had a view, one that her worry made her take for granted. She hadn't a clue how this conversation was going to go, and couldn't understand why her father hadn't sought help sooner. Taking her bag out with her, she walked to the side of the van, expectant.

The view was one that Fletch would come to loathe, but as he killed the engine and stepped out into fresh air he wanted nothing but to forego their impending conversation in favour of sitting down and soaking it up, fag in hand. He patted his pockets, bereft of that familiar cardboard carton, and felt itchy for it.

'Take a seat.'

The coffee was pre-ground, the offered seat a fold out steel affair; badly dented. Of the two mugs he owned he gave his daughter the least obnoxious. On one side it proclaimed:-


He spared her a view of its U N T twin as he settled on the van's side door stoop. It felt a mistake to arm his daughter with boiling liquid. But then, all of this left him feeling wrong and off kilter.

'Never did explain what you meant by home. We talking back in Connecticut with your mum and Ali?'

 She took the mug with a mumbled thank you, hardly noticing the word printed on the side. "She misses you so much. More than I ever did." And she'd missed him quite a lot. "Maybe it's not you specifically, she was still young when you left, but she's spent most of her life going without. I mean, even the kids with divorced parents still get to see them." Her relationship with her sister was as complicated as any of her other familial bonds, but Heather wanted her father to know what his leaving had cost them. All of them.

Fletch sat with his hands clasped around the uncomfortably hot mug, his gaze cast away toward the dry, pine-strewn ground. His absence all these long years had been the lesser evil, but an evil nonetheless; an intangible wrongdoing until Heather came to give it corporeal form.

'Only if they're fit to be parents.' He offered her a vague smile, feeling very much as though he walked on egg shells. 'Would've kept up calling you, but -' in the beginning he'd struggled to secure work, to keep an income steady enough to support himself. Struggled to keep track of anything beyond the wax and wane of the moon. Twice weekly phone calls decayed to every other weekend, degraded to the odd month here or there. Phone numbers lost and reissued as the sincerity of his apologies fell on ears that had heard them too many times to believe he was earnest. 'Your mum and I didn't think it was such a good idea at the time.'

And in that at least, Fletch was truthful. The decision had been a joint one - made with their best interests at heart. He doubted now that had ever been the right path to take.

 So much the product of her upbringing, Heather was consistently caught between her own innate reactions and a more tempered understanding of the world. When she'd broached the possibility of seeing a therapist during Sunday dinner both mother and grandparents had sniffed, disdainful. She still wanted to go, but now when the thought surfaced it was met with derision.

 Montgomerys don't need that sort of thing.

 The detail her family skillfully and often forgot was her tainted pedigree. She was Montgomery and Fletcher in equal parts. A mutt dressed up like a heir gunning for best in show.

 It didn't surprise her to find out her mother had wanted the contact to stop. Catherine had scrubbed at her father's memory like an inset stain. "I love you, Dad." She wiped stubbornly at her eyes, taking in the view. "I never forgot you and I never would have."

 Finally, she turned towards him. "Tell me what happened. Tell me about what you are. Please." She wanted to hear it all.

Tears came, and the urge to gather her into his arms rose with it. As though she was still ten years old, and her upset was the product of a playground fight, bad grades, or a nightmare. Transient upsets that were easily soothed away with a cuddle.

'And I love you.' He blinked to overcome the prickling sensation that threatened to overwhelm him before his gaze lifted to hers. 'So much. Can't begin to say how much I've missed you both.'

But Heather was not the little girl he remembered. In his absence she had hardened - concerned herself with facts opposed to feeling. Now she asked for information he was cautious to provide. The truth, such as it was, could destroy her.

Thinking on this, Fletch set his mug aside and scootched up on the step. 'Come sit here, and tell me what you know already. See if I can't fill in the blanks for you.' He beckoned for the hand that had wiped away her upset. There was room enough for two, if she chose to embrace it.

 Her better judgement rose like a wall against his gentle invitation. He was her father, but he was also sick. Heather didn't want to treat him like a leper, but there came a point where sympathy and compassion proved foolish. Shifting where she sat, she clung to her mug and didn't move. "I'm good here, thank you." Polite, gentle, but firm.

 She pressed on, doing her best to smooth over any hurt feelings with the hot iron of her research. "I don't know much, admittedly. It's hard to find a general consensus online. The internet is full of crack-pots. Based on the shifting of your eyes and the time of day it happened I think I can conclusively say that you're a shifter. But I don't know what kind you are and I don't really know what that means."

With her refusal to join him, Heather forced a hand between his ribs to pluck at his heart. A carrion crow come to feast on the tattered scraps of a long-ago ruined organ.

'Alright.' Rejected, Fletch scratched at his jaw before retrieving his coffee. Small, displacement activities to mask his hurt. 'Well, what it means is that I can't come back to Connecticut with you. I'm stuck with it. For life. Think it's better I avoid passing it on to the people that matter to me. Don't you?'

From the distance she kept, Fletch certainly felt she agreed. Viscerally, in fact, and loathsome.

 "What? No. Why???" The Montgomery women had a particular quality to their voices, a shrill fever pitch that cracked a gave way only in the most dire circumstances. A bugle of reproach, Heather shuck her head, adamant. "No, you have to come back. I told you we'll find a way to make you better. There has to be something you can do, you're just not trying hard enough."

 She stood up. "Aren't we worth it??? This is your family, Dad. Your life. You've been running away from it all this time - a-and I get it now, I understand but I want to help you."

The shrill of her voice was salt in an open and festering wound. One the dog reacted to as though she were a rival's scent on home turf.

'To what?!' On his feet, coffee sloshed onto the needled ground. An uncomfortable prickling between his shoulders reminded him what it was to have hackles. 'To what, Heather? What've I to go back to?'

The outburst tempered almost as soon as it erupted; a hand through his hair and wiped down his face enough to soothe the animal that was pacing and pressing inside his head. Her tone, her demands, the accusations of lacking effort. They went against the grain to fray too many raw nerves.

'I'm divorced. You're grown up. You think we can just drive back to Connecticut and play happy families?'

 Like any good tantrum, it came with warning signs. Her eyes flashed defiantly and she glared at her father before she threw her mug of coffee on the ground. It smashed at his feet, the hot liquid spilling out, rusting the pale, sandy-colored earth.

 "Fuck you!" Her angry smoked thick, smothering her caution. Stomping over to him, she got in his face, jabbing a finger at his chest, more sergeant than daughter. "You have us! Are we not good enough for you? You missed my graduation. You shouldn’t miss Ali’s. I want you to be there to help me move into my dorm. I want you to fucking be there to walk me down the aisle. Choose to be better than this! You walked away from so much, don’t abandon us again."

He would need a new mug, he thought abstractly, as the shards of what had been a parting gift from a friend exploded in too many directions to salvage. Heather was on him then, hounding him. Her expression contorted with anger.

'What has to change that I can't do that now?!' He was mobile, he had smart clothes and a razor somewhere too. He could haul boxes and luggage better than any other dad Heather had cause to know. Nothing she wanted was beyond him.

'Unless I'm not good enough for you. That it? Everything you hoped I wasn't?' The phrase that had stuck with him like a thorn between the paw pads. Even saying it out loud didn't soothe the pain.

 She blinked at him like he was stupid. "Who grows up hoping that their father will abandon them!? Who hopes that one day they'll find out that dad's a secret fucking monster." Sticking by her words even more fervently now despite him waving them back in her face to try to shame her. "Get help. All of you need to get some fucking help. There has to be a cure for this. If we can find antibiotics for diseases than they can treat this too. It's just a matter of time."

Faced with demands he could not fulfill, Fletch lifted his palms in a signal of surrender. He collapsed against the van after that. Scrubbed his hands over his face.

'You're not listening to me, Heather.' He didn't look at her as he said this, rather looked up towards the sky. 'This isn't like an addiction or stomach 'flu. This is like AIDS. There is no cure. I can't get better.'

 She took a measured step back. "How do you know that?" Her voice softening some though it was still a demand. "Who told you that? Maybe there's something that could at least help so you're not as much of a danger. So you really could come home." Not that that was what he seemed to want anymore.

Fletch chewed the inside of his cheek, realisation hitting him harder than a clip from a car. He had help. Back in Red Rock, there were five other coyotes who were there for him, as he was for them. In Cedar Creek, there was a wolf who had resolved to do better and bid he do the same. He didn't know how, or the first place to begin, but if he could learn how to control the dog in his head with absolute certainty, perhaps -

'Know what, there might be.' Spoken with an uncharacteristic softness, his brow furrowed in thought.'Don't know that it's something you could help with, though. Think I'd have to figure it out by myself.' He looked at her, doubting. 'You trust me to do that?'

 Watching him, Heather bit her lip to keep it from trembling. "What about me? What am I supposed to do now?" What her father couldn't see was the precipice she was walking towards. A life so structured and then suddenly not. It was a free fall without a parachute, and it had been foolish to think her father would catch her when he'd never wanted to hold them before.

What about her. Fletch regarded his eldest daughter; this strange, sapling creature who loved and loathed him in equal measure. Contrary, confusing, entirely a mess of his own making. She deserved better.

'Go home.' It was uncomfortable to imagine what she might have abandoned or postponed to come and find him, to be disappointed and horrified by what she learned. He tossed his hand in a fruitless way, feeling as though he was damned and wrong whatever he said.

'You're right. I'm no good to you like this. But I'll figure out how to be better. I promise.' How many promises had he left unfulfilled over the years. She had no cause to believe he was telling the truth now. 'Until then you've got a life to live, haven't you? Must've made some plans after school.'

 She flinched at the dismissal.

 When she finally spoke it was as though she were admitting the decision to herself for the first time, horrified with her own impulsiveness. "I deferred my acceptance letters. I waited too long and they fell through. I lost my scholarships." She shrugged, her nails digging into her arms. "Mom and Grandma and Grandpa don't know. They just think I'm visiting friends." Which hadn't been a total lie, but she knew the significant omission would be met with icy-hearted ire.

 "I don't want to go home."

He expected another tantrum; more hive-borne accusations, boiling forth on a tide of anger.

What he got was ice in the veins. Enough to leave him stunned and blinking as the pieces slotted into place. Her troubles were not insurmountable; Montgomery pockets were deep. But Fletcher pride wouldn't stand to go back there, begging bowl in hand. Small wonder she'd panicked.

'Don't imagine you do, no.' The hand that had jumped to his hair at her admission now fell to his forehead; scrubbing one brow back and forth at the dilemma she presented. 'How much were they? Where'd you get into?'

 She looked at anything that wasn't him. "Seven schools. Two full rides. A few partials." Muttering the loathsome words like they were disaster statistics. "I got into Yale. Grandma and Grandpa threw me a party. I've never seen Mom look so proud." It didn't mean she couldn't apply and get in again, but she'd chosen this over a future she'd been groomed to thrive in.

 "It's fine. I'll figure something out."

'Oh, Jesus wept, Heather.'

The hand at his forehead slid over his eyes, as if by blocking out the world he could pretend none of this existed. A deep breath in did nothing to calm the nausea that rose in response to that four letter word. Yale.

'Ok. Well -' a brief hope of covering for her disintegrated like single-ply toilet paper. Staying with him presented a raft of problems he could hardly stand to consider. Leaving her to fend for herself was unthinkable.

'Not tonight.' He gestured behind him, into the open side door. 'Still a bed for you there, if you want it. Promise it's clean.' He attempted a smile. 'Got beans in. Those are vegan, aren't they?'

 She would eventually have to accepted that she'd backed herself into a corner. Mutually unappealing, Heather weighed the humiliation of returning to Connecticut and reapplying to schools, of starting a semester late and being expected to catch up and graduate on time anyway, against the rustic and seemingly aimless existence her father led. "Can't be worse than camping." She finally said, edging closer to the van. "You don't mind?"

He stepped back to allow her access to the small space, to explore what little there was within. Room enough for two, but only at a push, it housed a small kitchen unit replete with sink and stove, a small fridge and the aforementioned bed. The rest of the van was given over to storage.

'Don't mind at all.' Already, the logistical, social and financial nightmare of housing his own daughter ate away at him, and he felt heinous as a result. Heidi manages it, he thought. But he wasn't Heidi. He wasn't even in the running for dad of the decade.

'But -'

He scratched his forehead, hating himself for the words that came next.

'If you're staying with me we'll have to lay down some ground rules.'

 She tried not to be contemptuous when she thought how a dorm room would have been an upgrade from this stuffy shoebox of a van. Where was he going to sleep? Outside? Stifling her questions as much as her judgements, she examined the interior with laborious neutrality.

 "What sort of ground rules?" Suspicious, but pliable for now.

Shite, he thought, as he recognised he also had to construct and lay down those rules. One, sudden spark of who he used to be trailed and faltered to an ember. There were a hundred different things to remember about living in a van. But in comparison to those required to live with a shifter, none were potentially fatal.

'Righto, well - first of all you can't talk to anyone else about this. Not your mum, or Ali, or anyone I happen to know.' He scratched his beard. 'Weren't supposed to find out about it to begin with, but we are where we are.' It was a careful dance around the phrase our little secret. Fletch watched Heather's clinical study of his home with growing unease, as the dog fussed at the alien intrusion to its space. There was nothing about this to suggest he wasn't standing on the brink of another catastrophic mistake.

 She wondered if posting about it on the internet counted as telling people, but she hadn't used her real name and neglected to offer any details as to who she suspected might not be human.

 There were plenty of things wrong with her father's statement and this attitude of secrecy. If the supernatural community wanted to keep their existence unknown they'd done a shitty job. "Why do you need to keep quiet about it? Are you worried you'll be shipped to some government facility and never seen again?" Which, to be fair, wasn't completely asinine to think.

 She waved her hand in an attempt to cut off his answer before he had a chance to say it. "Fine, fine. I won't say anything. I still think you need to get help but I trust you to find the safest way to do that for yourself." As long as he tried, that was what mattered. "Anything else?"

'No.' Quick to answer, his arms crossed tight about his chest. Never the biggest fan of 'the man', it wouldn't have surprised him to learn that kind of thing already happened. 'Worried some know-it-all lass will gob off to the wrong folk and get herself -'

Curtailed and dismissed by Heather's flippant agreement, Fletch scowled. 'Aye, stop acting like your mother.'

 She flushed, immediately defensive. Maybe I wouldn't be so much like her if you'd stuck around. Keeping the thought to herself, she shut down a little, embarrassed that she could remind him of someone he likely loathed and hating that said person was her own mother. "Should I follow you back to Mountainside or did you want to stay in Nevada City for a bit?"

The rush of colour to Heather's cheeks seemed to Fletch like blooming embarrassment; that his daughter understood the line she crossed and felt ashamed for it. But the truth was anyone's guess. In the battlefield of child rearing, discipline and boundary setting had been Catherine's purview. He had been the story teller, head of school runs and weekend extracurriculars. Who signed permission slips without reading the attached letter, and whisked them away during term time. The one to slip chocolate into lunch boxes and scrawl quotes on their napkins, who taught them to read but not necessarily to respect their elders.

He waved a hand back and forth. 'Let's have something to eat first, yeah? Been on the road two days solid. Feel like I've set.'

To his mind, there was no need to rush into anything. In time, he would explain that after having told people he was heading off for a few weeks, it would look strange to come back so soon. There and then, he simply offered Heather a vague grin and ducked into the van; steeling himself for a lecture on the sins of a carnivorous diet.

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